phases of the moon

   

 

the crescent moon

cut deep this month.  she died the day

the waxing crescent swung low

through the cedars.

i must have grieved through the half moon

i don't  remember.

mourning erases memory, sweeps it into clouds.

she lives in my dreams

or whenever my eyes are closed.

tonight the moon is full

let it bring her back to me.

every new thing i see without her

a milestone beyond bearing.

september full moon

bring her back to me.

 

 

 

 

Coming soon

Coming soon, How to Write a Novel video.  I'll tell you all my secrets!

[Update: video is up!  Aspiring writers and others, please click above to watch.]

The shoot lasted all day.  Once darkness fell, Mike O'Gorman, the director, (pictured below) set up lights with red and blue gels.  The effect was quite magical.  A night shoot was essential because dreaming is such an important part of writing.  I fall asleep and take my characters with me.  Dreams mix everything together, answers are revealed, and story falls into place.  I wake up, write down what I've learned, and go back to sleep.

Here are a few stills from the How to Write a Novel shoot.  Notice Maggie sleeping next to me...  There's one of Mike taking 5, and one of my wonderful video-online team at the wrap party at the Red Cat.  From left--my assistant (and Mike's fiance) Jessie Cantrell, Ted O'Gorman, me, Mike O'G, and Hallie Clarke.

Nightbirds in Central Park

Nightbirds in Central Park by Luanne Rice

When I was young and under the complete command of my heart, I moved to New York.  I was searching for art and artists and writers and a place that could accommodate my life’s intensity and call it “creativity.”

My friend Brendan Gill, drama critic at The New Yorker, gave me several invaluable instructions.  One was, “Writers always think they have to drink a lot and be miserable, but don’t,” and another was, “Go to Central Park.”  He told me that as Connecticut natives we required a lot of nature to balance urban thrills, and over the years I have discovered that he was completely right.

Although I love Poets’ Walk, the Bandshell, Cleopatra’s Needle, and the allées of crabapple trees in Conservatory Garden, my favorite places in Central Park are the most wild—the Ramble and the North Woods.  The park is situated along the Atlantic Flyway, a migration corridor traveled by birds that fly at night, navigating by the stars, landing at sunrise in the greenest spots they see.  Central Park is a great oasis for birds.

Last weekend was the Bio-Blitz, a twenty-four biological survey of the park.  Organized by the Explorer’s Club, it attracted many nature-lovers to participate.  In all, they counted 838 species.  I had planned to join the Friday night moth-counting contingent, but during peak hours I found myself engaged in a different exploration: walking across the Brooklyn Bridge with two friends from Hartford, one of them thirteen, on a search for the Brooklyn roots of the rapper Jay-Z.

But I visit the park frequently and have remembrances of observations past…  During the Christmas Bird Count on December 19th, 2004, the word went out that a Boreal Owl, rare for these parts, had been spotted in a tall pine behind Tavern on the Green.  I headed over, and stood with Cal Vornberger as he photographed the shy, beautiful bird.  Another favorite time was the night I went owling.  In March, 2002, my friend E.J. McAdams, then an Urban Park Ranger, invited me to join an expedition to track screech owls.  We met at the Boathouse, and our party consisted of several avid birders, including Charles, Lee, and Noreen, famous to people who know the story of Pale Male, the red-tailed hawk who for ten years has courted, hunted, nested, and raised seventeen chicks atop the penthouse next to Woody Allen’s.

At night the city is enchanted.  It just is.  You stand at the edge of the park and look around at all the buildings twinkling with lights—the Plaza, the Dakota, the San Remo, the Beresford, the limestone palaces on Fifth Avenue—and New York City is a magical landscape of wit and glamour, and there’s an orchestra of taxi horns and boom boxes, and at any second someone wonderful will come along and ask you to dance.  Just outside the park, New York City is still a place of human dreams.

But walk inside the park’s perimeter, and suddenly you are solidly with nature—the place Brendan warned me that I must find.  After sunset, Central Park is the wilderness, vast and dark.  That March night was chilly.  E.J. told us that to find owls at night, we had to look for unexpected shapes in the bare trees.  We tried to walk silently, like trackers, scanning branches overhead with an unfocussed gaze.

We made our way around the Lake, and our first sighting was just south of Bow Bridge.  As promised, the screech owl looked “unexpected”: an out-of-place smudge in a graceful network of maple branches.  We stood still, watching for a long time, until she flew.  And then we followed her into the Ramble.

A screech owl’s call is the opposite of its name, mysterious and descending, like a backwards horse whinny.  We tracked that owl till we lost her, and then we looked and listened for others.  During that whole night, our group rarely spoke.  We each had our own reasons for being there, in the wilds of Central Park on a cold not-yet-spring night, and I know that I was lost in a combination of meditation, awe, and gratitude for my Connecticut-born connection with nature.

On Cedar Hill, in the east-seventies, there is a stand of red cedar trees where in recent years four Long-ear owls have roosted.  Like other owls, they sleep by day and hunt by night.  By staking out the trees at dusk, it is possible, with patience, to observe the “fly out.”  I witnessed it once; E.J. pointed out how each of the four owls left the trees in a completely idiosyncratic way.  One hopped to the end of a branch, then flapped toward the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Another zoomed straight up, like the Concorde.  One hulked like a gargoyle, seeming to indict everyone and everything on the ground, and then flew menacingly into the night.  The last waited a long time, as if deciding whether to actually go or not, and then looped west, toward Belvedere Castle.

It is a great thrill and honor to observe the fly-out; only one person I have ever heard of has ever seen the fly-in, and I was with her on the Night of the Screech Owls.  Noreen.  Tall and stately, she has a cascade of bright white hair and eyes that are steady and compassionate.  One New Year’s Eve, it is said, after watching the Cedar Hill fly-out, she decided to stick around the park till just before dawn and wait for the owls to come home.

That’s a much more difficult proposition, because they don’t return all at the same time, and they arrive from different directions, and the sun hasn’t yet risen over the East Side, and the owls fly in so fast you’re not quite sure you’ve seen them.  But according to park legend, Noreen did—that New Year’s Day, she saw the fly-in.

Although I walked beside her that March night, I didn’t ask her about the story.  Our screech owl-seeking group progressed north in silence, over the Seventy-Ninth Street Transverse and past Shakespeare Garden, into more relatively tame park regions as we made for the North Woods—the dense woodlands and steep bluffs in the northernmost reaches of the park.

But we never got that far.  We spotted an owl along Central Park West.  Just across the busy street, the exhibit “Baseball as America” was opening on at the American Museum of Natural History.  The great columned entrance was stunningly illuminated red, white and blue as limousines discharged various Yankees, Mets, and other baseball and museum lovers.

There, bathed in the museum’s patriotic glow, was a screech owl perched on a low branch. To get the best view, we had to actually exit the park and stand on the sidewalk at West 81st Street. People were clustered, watching for Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams and Joe Torres, who were rumored to be attending the opening. We had to edge through the throng, to get closer to the owl. Two crowds of people standing in the same spot, facing in opposite directions.

The owl was oblivious.  He was gray and white, eight inches tall, so close I could look into his ferocious yellow eyes.  In true New York fashion, he let everyone else go about their business while he went about his: killing a mouse.  Wings spread, he slashed downward, hit his prey as it ran, and ripped it apart—gobbling bloody entrails made redder by the gala museum lights.

Most of the bystanders missed seeing that murderous show.  They forgot to glance over the wall into the wilds of Central Park, fixed as they were on the American pastime, on the enchantment of Manhattan, on their own human dreams.

I have my own human dreams.  I have made many of them come true in New York City.  But part of me is still a Connecticut girl at heart, and Brendan’s words are never too far from my consciousness: “Go to Central Park.”  Oracle, sage: thank you for knowing me, for reminding me of who I am.  Nature is in my nature.

Besides, I still have to see the fly-in.

(Photograph by Cal Vornberger: Two fledgling Eastern screech owls, Central Park, North Woods.  www.calvorn.com)

Portrait of the Writer as a Young Chelsea Girl

Portrait of the Writer as a Young Chelsea Girl by Luanne Rice

When I first moved to New York City, I lived on Tenth Avenue just north of Fourteenth Street, over a speakeasy that used to be frequented by the Irish mob.  My mentor, a writer at The New Yorker, had helped me find a room in an SRO.  He’d told me that all writers had to live in New York, preferably in squalor, and since I had basically no money but many dreams, I was on board with that.  Chelsea was the Wild West then—gunshots were a common way to be awakened at two in the morning.  I got so I would dial “911” in my sleep.

My mentor suggested I live as stable a life as possible, writing all the time and not falling into the temptations of drink, parties, and a messy love life.  Soon I married, and moved to an actual apartment in the same neighborhood.  My then-husband was a young lawyer.  We had no money, but big dreams.  I published my first short stories and wrote my first novel in New York—Angels All Over Town.

Throughout this time, the Empire Diner was my café.  I went there for coffee every morning, and until it closed last spring, continued to do so over the last twenty-plus years.  Back then Paulina Porizkova and Elle Macpherson were roommates, and I would see them at the next table.  There were lots of clubs in the neighborhood, and half the diner would be filled with people just waking up, half with people on their way home.

But the part of Chelsea I’ve always loved best has been the seminary block.  West 20th St. between Ninth and Tenth Avenues.  Built on land owned by Clement Clark Moore (author of “A Visit From St. Nicholas,”) it seems very alive with ghosts.  I’ve always felt them there, and I wrote about them in Silver Bells.

Back when I first lived here, West 20th St. was home to two of my favorite writers—Ann Beattie and Laurie Colwin.  It was like a literary mecca for me—to walk down the street on the off-chance of seeing them.  Which I often did…

In spite of his admonition to not become distracted by the literary life, my mentor used to take me to lunch at the Algonquin, where we would sit one banquette away from Mr. Shawn, and to the theater, and opening night parties, and literary soirees.  Once I sat at a table with him, Norman Mailer, John Updike, William Styron, and George Plimpton.  Then I came home to write and try not to feel daunted.

I’ve been a writer my whole life, and I still live in Chelsea.  What a solitary time it was when I first lived here—my husband worked all the time, and I hardly ever saw him.  I just wrote.  My friends were artists, writers, and musicians.  Eventually I did fall prey to all I'd been warned against, and certain things fell apart, and others seemed to come together.   My husband and I divorced.  Hearts were broken and broken again.  I became a wild child, which was inconvenient because by then I was in my thirties.  Chelsea saw me through.

Galleries took over, and the streets became not so gritty.  New places opened.  I found an apartment with two views: a sliver of the Hudson River to the west, and the historic district of Chelsea to the east.  Directly across the street is an old warehouse that sports billboards advertising self-storage with messages such as the one I'm looking at right now: "Material Possessions Won't Make You Happy or Maybe They Will."  Most days I have lunch or at least coffee at the Half King, a café owned by Sebastian Junger and Scott Anderson.  There is a sidewalk terrace, back garden, and black leather couches under slanting ceilings.  On Monday nights there is a wonderful reading series.

After a more recent divorce than the first one, I went into Dan’s Chelsea Guitars and bought an acoustic guitar.  I began to take lessons from Mark Lonergan, a great guitarist who lives in the building next to the Hotel Chelsea.  He’s taught me a lot, but I don’t practice enough.  Even so, I write songs and have formed a band with two women from the neighborhood.  They’re both really good: Dianne plays bass, and Ali plays keyboards.  We’re all in the arts and do so much work from home, we call ourselves “House Arrest.”

Chelsea has been home for so long, it hurts to see the major changes occurring.  Fancy new buildings going up.  Where are all the young writers, musicians, artists, actors supposed to live if all the cheap apartments get torn down so “luxury high-rises” can go up in their place?

It confuses me, but I have faith in young writers.  I found my own inspiring patch of squalor here in New York City, and I trust that they will, too.  They’ll find their way to a Chelsea all their own.

The Deep Blue Sea for Beginners

A legendary island steeped in the mystery and wisdom of centuries… A runaway heiress learning to trust life, and love…

A mother and daughter, separated for years, searching for a way to face the future together… Luanne tells a powerful story of love, family, and friendship through the lives of two women who reunite at a place where dreams begin.

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